PREPARED REMARKS: Sanders Senate Floor Speech on Defense Spending Bill

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Wednesday delivered remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate ahead of consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Sen. Sanders’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

“M. President, day after day, here on the floor and back in their states, many of my colleagues tell the American people how deeply concerned they are about the deficit and the national debt. They tell us that we just don’t have enough money to expand Medicare to cover dental care, eyeglasses and hearing aids; we can’t guarantee paid family and medical leave; we can’t provide two years of free community college; and we can’t build the amount of affordable housing the country desperately needs; or address the climate crisis to the degree that we should if we want to protect the well-being of future generations. 

“Yet, today, the Senate will begin consideration of an annual defense budget that costs $778 billion – $37 billion more than President Trump’s last defense budget and $25 billion more than what President Biden requested.

“And by the way, all this for an agency, the Department of Defense, that continues to have massive cost overruns year after year and is the only major government agency not to successfully complete an independent audit. 

“Isn’t it strange how even as we end the longest war in our nation’s history, the war in Afghanistan, concerns about the deficit and national debt seem to melt away under the influence of the powerful Military Industrial Complex?

“But that’s not all. Further, it is likely that the so-called ‘competition bill’ will be attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. This $250 billion bill includes $52 billion in corporate welfare, with no strings attached, for a handful of extremely profitable microchip companies. Oh! And by the way, this bill also contains a $10 billion handout to Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest people in our country, for space exploration. 

“Combining these two pieces of legislation would push the price tag of the defense bill to over $1 trillion for one year. Meanwhile, Congress has spent month after month discussing the Build Back Better Act, which on an annual basis costs far less than the Pentagon budget, and whether we can afford to protect the working families of our country, the children, the elderly, the sick and the poor, and the future of our planet. 

“If there was ever a moment in American history when we needed to fundamentally alter our national priorities, now is that time. 

“Whether it is transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels, guaranteeing paid family and medical leave, taking on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, addressing our housing crisis, or providing child care and Pre-K – now is the time for change, real change.

“But instead of addressing these major issues that impact the working families of our country, Congress comes together, Democrats and Republicans, with minimal debate to support an exploding Pentagon budget which is now higher than the next 13 nations combined, and represents more than half of our discretionary spending.

“Incredibly, after adjusting for inflation, we are now spending more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War or during the wars in Vietnam and Korea.

“M. President, that is why I have introduced an amendment with Senator Markey to reduce the military budget by $25 billion, down to what President Biden requested. 

“Let me be clear: this is not a radical idea, it is the military spending amount proposed by the President of the United States and the amount requested by the Department of Defense.

“I should also point out that this extraordinary level of military spending comes at a time when the Department of Defense is the only agency of our federal government that has not been able to pass an independent audit, and when defense contractors are making enormous profits while paying their CEOs exorbitant compensation packages. 

“And let’s not forget the so-called ‘competition bill’ that is likely to be attached to the NDAA. I am deeply concerned about the provisions in this bill which will provide more than $53 billion in emergency appropriations for the microchip industry, with no strings attached. Let me repeat that. We are talking about more than $53 billion in Federal funds – and, by the way, I suspect there will be more taxpayer money coming to these corporations from State and local government –with no strings attached. 

“Do we need to expand the microchip industry in this country so that we become less dependent on foreign countries? Yes. But we can accomplish that goal without throwing money at these companies with no protections for the taxpayer.

“In total, I suspect 5 major semi-conductor companies will likely receive the lion’s share of this taxpayer handout: Intel, Texas Instruments, Micron Technology, Analog Devices and NVIDIA (NAH-VIDIA). I should point out that these 5 companies made nearly $35 billion in profits last year and spent more than $18 billion buying back their own stock. These 5 corporations paid their CEOs a combined $85 million in compensation last year.

“Further, this is an industry that received nearly $6 billion in government subsidies and loans over the years. It is an industry that has shut down over 780 manufacturing plants in the United States and eliminated 150,000 American jobs in the last 20 years – 29% of its workforce – while moving most of its production overseas. 

“Let’s be clear about what is happening here. In order to make more profits, these companies took government money and then offshored good American jobs. Now, for that bad behavior, these same companies are getting some $53 billion in no-strings corporate welfare to undo the damage that they did. 

“M. President, that is why I have introduced Senate amendment No. 4722. This amendment would prevent microchip companies from receiving taxpayer assistance unless they agree to issue warrants to the Federal Government.

“If private companies are going to benefit from over $53 billion in taxpayer subsidies, the financial gains made by these companies must be shared with the American people, not just wealthy shareholders. In other words, all this amendment says is that if these companies want taxpayer assistance, we are not going to socialize all of the risks and privatize all of the profits.

“And let me be very clear. This is not a radical idea. These exact conditions were imposed on corporations that received taxpayer assistance in the bipartisan CARES Act, which passed the Senate 96 to 0. In other words, every Member of the U.S. Senate has already voted for the conditions that are in the amendment. And CARES was not the first time that Congress passed warrants and equity stakes tied to government assistance. During the 2008 financial crisis, Congress required all companies taking TARP funds to issue warrants and equity stakes to the Federal Government.

“In addition to making sure that companies allow for warrants and equity stakes, this amendment would require that these companies cannot buy back their own stock, not outsource American jobs, not repeal existing collective bargaining agreements, and remain neutral in any union organizing effort.

“And here’s something else that is in this ‘competition bill’ that must be addressed. Unbelievably, this bill would provide some $10 billion in taxpayer money to Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in America, for his space race with Elon Musk, the wealthiest person in America. This is beyond laughable, and I will be introducing an amendment to strike this provision.

“It is not acceptable that the two wealthiest people in this country – Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos – take control over our space efforts to return to the Moon and maybe even the extraordinary accomplishment of getting to Mars.

“Let me say a few words about why there is so much waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon. It has a lot to do with the fact that the Defense Department remains the only federal agency in America that hasn’t been able to pass an independent audit – 30 years after Congress required it to do so. 

“Let us not forget that on September 10, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, ‘Our financial systems are decades old. According to some estimates, we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions. We cannot share information from floor to floor in this building because it’s stored on dozens of technological systems that are inaccessible or incompatible.’

“And yet, 20 years after Mr. Rumsfeld’s statement, the Pentagon has still not passed a clean audit despite the fact that the Pentagon controls assets in excess of $3.1 trillion, or roughly 78 percent of what the entire federal government owns. Just this week, the Pentagon announced that it will fail its fourth consecutive financial audit in a row. 

“That’s why I have introduced an amendment with Senator Grassley that would require the Pentagon to pass a clean audit this year. If it fails to do so, one percent of its budget would be returned to the Treasury each year until it obtains a clean audit opinion. 

“I believe this is a moment in history when it would be a good idea for all of my colleagues, and the American people, to remember what former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1953. And, as we all recall, Eisenhower was a four star general who led the allied forces to victory in Europe during World War II. Eisenhower said: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’

“What Eisenhower said was true 68 years ago, and it is true today.

“If the horrific coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it is that national security means a lot more than building bombs, missiles, jet fighters, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. National security also means doing everything we can to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, many of whom have been abandoned by our government for decades.

“M. President, when we analyze the Defense Department budget it is important to note that Congress has appropriated so much money for the Defense Department that the Pentagon literally does not know what to do with it. According to the GAO, over the course of 11 years, the Pentagon returned an astonishing $128 billion in excess funds back to the Treasury. 

“And, over the past two decades, virtually every major defense contractor in the United States has paid millions of dollars in fines and settlements for misconduct and fraud – all while making huge profits on those government contracts. 

“Since 1995, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies have paid over $3 billion in fines or related settlements for fraud or misconduct. 

“Further, M. President, I find it interesting that the very same defense contractors that have been found guilty or reached settlements for fraud are also paying their CEOs excessive compensation packages.

“In 2020 alone, the CEO’s of the top five contractors received a total of $105.5 million in compensation. From 2017 to 2020, total compensation for major executives at all five contractors topped $1 billion. These companies are for all intent and purposes are governmental agencies where the CEOs make over a hundred times more than the Secretary of Defense. 

“And, when compared with the average newly enlisted service member, the top defense contractor CEOs are earning 500 percent more in compensation. It’s not too surprising, therefore, that we have a revolving door where our military people end up on the boards of directors of these major defense companies.

“Moreover, M. President, as the GAO has told us, there are massive cost overruns in the Defense Department’s acquisition budget that we have got to address. 

“According to GAO, the Pentagon’s $1.8 trillion acquisition portfolio currently suffers from more than $628 billion in cost overruns with much of the cost growth taking place after production. 

“GAO tells us that DOD’s acquisition portfolio ‘has accumulated over $628 billion (or 54 percent) in total cost growth since program start, most of which is unrelated to the increase in quantities purchased. Additionally, over the same time period, time required to deliver initial capabilities has increased by 30 percent, resulting in an average delay of more than 2 years.’

“M. President, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded in 2011 that $31-$60 billion spent in Iraq and Afghanistan had been lost to fraud and waste. 

“Separately, in 2015, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion in funding for reconstruction projects. 

“And more recently, an audit conducted by Ernst & Young for the Defense Logistics Agency found that it could not properly account for some $800 million in construction projects. 

“In 2019, while carrying out current audit efforts, the Navy found an entire warehouse full of $126 million in equipment that it didn’t know existed. Some of the equipment included fighter jets that had been retired over a decade earlier. 

“M. President, that is unacceptable.

“I have also filed an amendment with Senator Markey and Rep. Ro Khanna in the House to finally end all U.S. support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen. This amendment simply codifies a prohibition on support for the Saudi-war that already passed both houses of Congress in 2019 in a bipartisan way. At that time, and in 2019, various officials now in the Biden-Harris Administration signed a letter supporting this measure. The House already passed this amendment for the third consecutive year. It is long overdue for this provision to be included in the final defense policy bill that is sent to the President’s desk.

“In addition to Yemen, I have long-standing concerns about the situation in Gaza. That’s why I have introduced an amendment to request a series of reports on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and on steps that the United States could take to ease that crisis and bring desperately needed humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. 

“Gaza has been suffering for years under a set of extremely severe restrictions – on the movement of people, on the import and export of food and other goods – which are supposedly intended to punish the militant group Hamas, which rules inside Gaza. But it is the people themselves, families, whole communities, who are suffering from these restrictions. Israeli security leaders themselves have said for years that addressing this humanitarian crisis is something we can and must do to avoid further conflicts. So these reports I have requested will look at what might be done in that regard.

“And as we consider this massive defense bill, spending billions of dollars sending our young men and women into harm’s way, I find it unacceptable that Congress cannot come together to adequately provide services for our veterans after their separation from the military. 

“In my home state of Vermont, veterans who are eligible for dental care at the VA have no access to a VA dental clinic. In fact, Vermont is the only state in the nation that does not have a VA dental clinic. That is why I have introduced an amendment to the NDAA to require the Department of Veterans Affairs to maintain a dental clinic in every state in the nation, so all veterans have access to the care they deserve.

“Let me be clear, I believe in a strong military. But we cannot keep giving more money to the Pentagon than it needs when millions of children in this country are food insecure and 140 million Americans can’t afford the basic necessities of life without going into debt.

“In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that ‘a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’

“The time is long overdue to listen to Dr. King.

“At a time when, in the richest country in the history of the world, half of our people are struggling paycheck to paycheck, when close to 40 million Americans are living in poverty, and when over 500,000 Americans are homeless, we are approaching spiritual death.

“At a time when we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of almost any major country on earth, and when millions of Americans are in danger of going hungry, we are approaching spiritual death.

“At a time when tens of thousands of Americans die each year because they can’t afford to get to a doctor on time, and one out of five Americans can’t afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe, we are approaching spiritual death.

“Now, at this moment of unprecedented national crisis, it is time to rethink what we value as a society and to fundamentally transform our national priorities. 

“And as President Eisenhower said as he left office in 1961: ‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.’”